It took me a very long time to realize that John and I had a toxic relationship. When speaking about him with my friends I would say he was “very argumentative”. I didn’t quite realize that this behavior far exceeded what would be considered merely argumentative. He berated me. He belittled me. He used the fact that he was bigger and stronger than me to plant the seed of fear that he could hurt me if he chose to. He made me question myself. He would look at me with a dead serious look on his face and tell me “I never said that” or “That never happened”. I would start to ask myself, am I remembering that wrong? Did I imagine it? Maybe it’s me….
Foolishly I kept thinking that deep down he really loved me. That because he loved me… given time… he would be able to curb these behaviors. After all, isn’t love supposed to conquer all? Often, after these scary arguments, I would feel temporarily strong. I would stop talking to John for a few days. I would tell him that this was getting to be too much to handle. I even told him once that I was starting to resent him and even hate him.
His response was to always act wounded. As if he were the victim and I was the one who was difficult to deal with. Sometimes he would just wait out the silence and I would give in , saying I don’t want to live my life arguing. Could we just move on? Other times he would give me a begrudging apology that I knew he didn’t really mean, but I accepted it because I didn’t want to live with anger in my heart. Sometimes, on rare occasions, he would admit that he had a difficult time controlling his temper and he would tell me he was going to try harder.
It’s easy to ask, why did you stay? Why did you put up with this? Why did you marry this man when he was treating you like this when you were dating? Part of why I’m writing this blog is to help me process everything and find an answer to those questions. I don’t know the full answer as to why. I know parts of it though.
First of all, I have always been a very loyal person. I am also Catholic and this fostered a pretty black and white view over what was “right” and what was “wrong” within me. I believed that I took vows in front of God and I had to stick to them. That meant making it work and finding a way to make my situation as pleasant as I could, or just accepting it was going to be a very long, unpleasant life. I chose to try to make the best of it.
Also, when things got really bad, and I really thought I would be strong enough to leave, John would promise change. He would cry. He would tell me how much he loved me. He would tell me he knew he was wrong and he didn’t know why he behaved this way but he was going to stop. Occasionally he would admit he had an anger problem and share some article he found online that talked about how to deal with those issues and he would promise me that article was going to be the one that helped him change. Once he made me a book of “Get out of one argument free” coupons telling me that if I gave him one it would be his cue to stop and walk away. Another time he told me just to give him gentle reminders in an argument about the articles he read or the things we discussed, and he would respect it and stop the chasing, screaming, yelling, etc.
Want to know how well those things worked? They didn’t. For three weeks or so I would give him a gentle reminder and he would stop, but soon enough he would ignore the reminders and continue to yell while I quietly stated, “Please stop”, “Listen to my tone of voice and then listen to yours. Can you please talk to me kindly?” Of course these pleas fell on deaf ears. It was a cycle of dysfunction. An aggressive outburst…. I would say I can’t take it anymore… He’d change for a few weeks… I’d let my guard down… repeat.
But he was able to change his behavior for a long enough period that it gave me hope. And that hope is why I think I stayed. If he was able to change his behavior for three weeks…. then maybe he could do it for a few months. Then maybe that few months could turn into a year. My loyalty, love and hope coupled with his mind games gave him the control and power over me that he thrived off of and that kept me under his thumb. That was his definition of love.